The IDF / Reserves Drafted for 'Operation Winograd'

In the summer of 2006, during the war in Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces surprisingly ran into a small, elite force of reservists - in the media. They were senior officers, mostly major generals, who had retired from the army and had been invited to comment about what was taking place on the front and, while they were at it, how they could have done it better. The army tried in vain to fight them, and eventually appointed the most vocal among them to run in-house investigations. These inquiries resulted in another rout: Their recommendations led to a mass departure of the top brass.

Now, as publication of the Winograd Committee's final report approaches - and in the expectation that most of the blame will fall on the army - the IDF is trying to enlist the senior reservists in its defense: When asked by the media to offer their personal views on the report, based on their professional experience, they will serve as a "response team" for the General Staff, and will praise the efforts made to rebuild the army during the past 18 months.

About 15 officers, most of them major generals, such as former Israel Air Force chief Eitan Ben-Eliahu, and a few brigadier generals, are in urgent demand as commentators. Tomorrow evening a group will be hosted by deputy chief of staff, Major General Dan Harel, and chief of logistics Danny Biton. In his previous job, Biton was in charge of coordinating all the in-house investigations of the war in Lebanon. He and Harel will try to impress the tribal elders with the work done to improve the army - just hours before the wave of Winograd-related stories floods the media.

The IDF considers this to be proper preparation for sources who need up-to-date data to use in their analyses. But the reservist brass will not only be asked to talk about the training that tank crews are receiving or about brigade maneuvers: They will also be asked about the impact on the officer corps of the resignation of the chief of staff and other senior officers, and about how they feel concerning the refusal of the political leadership, and primarily of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to take responsibility for the war. Their views will likely reflect what they learn from Harel.

Harel's boss, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, will respond to the Winograd report, directly and indirectly, on Thursday, when the public furor will peak. He will do so at the Command and Staff College, where his brother, Brigadier General Avi Ashkenazi, is in charge. There he will attend a two-day conference entitled "Command, Coordination and Combined Arms during the Second Lebanon War - Lessons of Using and Building a Force." Most of the audience will be students, majors in the IDF, and their instructors, lieutenant colonels and colonels.

The first day's sessions will end nearly at the same time as the Winograd report is released, with a lecture by Major General Gadi Eisenkot, chief of operations during the war and now GOC Northern Command, on the operational challenges facing commanders in the Northern Command.

Among those who are not going to address the conference are former chief of staff Dan Halutz, the GOC Northern Command during the war, Udi Adam, and commanders of the divisions who fought the war.

Gabi Ashkenazi has been dithering recently about his choice as the next air force commander. His two worthy candidates are the head of planning at the General Staff, Major General Ido Nehushtan, and IAF Chief of Staff Brigadier General Amir Eshel. While he is deciding, the competition between two brigadier generals in the defense minister's office is bothering Ashkenazi: Both Mike Herzog and Eitan Dangot want to be promoted to major general, and both realize that only one will be. But only one has a political affiliation to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, through Minister of Welfare Isaac Herzog, who was involved in getting his brother a post in the office of former defense minister, Amir Peretz.

The Herzog-Dangot issue ruffles the good relationship between Barak and Ashkenazi, but the real test of their ties will come when the Winograd report is released and Barak will have to decide whether he thinks only the army brass should have taken the brunt of responsibility and resigned following the war.